Health Canada testing has found that roughly 95% of pot samples from licensed producers came back negative for pesticides in the months following legalization, according to data obtained by Global News.
The data — released to under access-to-information laws — was compiled from the health agency’s unannounced inspections that are conducted on Canada’s licensed cannabis producers.
However, of the 133 tests conducted between November 2018 and February 2019, five samples of dried cannabis tested positive for restricted pesticides. Four were within the so-called acceptable limits for pesticides like metalaxyl – a fungicide – which has a limit of 0.020 parts per million.
The names of licensed producers for each sample were not included in the data. There are over 250 licensed producers, processors and sellers in Canada.
One sample tested on Dec. 12, 2018 contained dangerous levels of banned pesticides, including myclobutanil at 14 ppm and bifenazate at 3.1 ppm. The limit for both chemicals is 0.020 in dried cannabis flower.
Myclobutanil — used to kill mildew — is a known carcinogen that is strictly prohibited for use on plants that are inhaled as it produces hydrogen cyanide when burned.
Health Canada said a recall was issued for the batch of cannabis once the high levels of chemicals were identified.
“At the time of the product recall, the pesticide testing had not yet been completed,” Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for Health Canada, said in an email. “The pesticide testing results were received on January 25, 2019.”
The testing revealed a significant decrease in the number of positive tests for pesticides since pot became legal for recreational use in October 2018. The partial Health Canada data from 2017 showed that of more than 160 unannounced tests, nearly 40 contained pesticides, with 28 samples of cannabis buds testing positive for myclobutanil.
Under current federal regulations, licensed producers are required to have cannabis tested for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes like bacteria or mould.
“Licensed cultivators and processors are required to report the detection of unauthorized pesticide active ingredients (a positive test result) to Health Canada no later than seven calendar days following receipt of the test results,” Jarbeau said.
In addition, Health Canada carries out its own targeted testing of pot samples collected during its regular and unannounced inspections of licensed producers.
Rob O’Brien, CEO of Supra Research and Development based in B.C., said the results of the Health Canada testing show that overall, the regulatory system is working.
“These results appear to be valid positive finding and a five per cent hit rate is not that unexpected,” O’Brien said. “This unannounced testing likely had the intended result, with bad actors being identified and dealt with and other producers introducing protocols to prevent findings in the future.”
However, Wendy Riggs, director of MB Labs in B.C., said she would like to see more frequent unannounced inspections done by third parties to create greater separation between the regulator and producers.
“I am uncomfortable with the government doing this kind of testing on a random basis because they are part and parcel of the enabling component of the regulatory process,” she said, adding that more tests should be done on the final product offered to consumers.
Riggs said it was shocking to see the presence of myclobutanil even in a single sample and would like to see more of the testing data made public.
“This is definitely a red flag… There is no safe level of myclobutanil,” she said. “I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Health Canada has issued 17 recalls for cannabis since legalization and some companies have had their licences suspended by Health Canada over investigations into contaminated products.
In December 2018, the Manitoba-based commercial cannabis producer Bonify lost its licence and faced two recalls over illegal cannabis products. Bonify had its sales licence fully reinstated in October 2019, according to RavenQuest Biomed, a company that took over operational control of Bonify following the unauthorized weed.
Most recalls have been for incorrect labelling, such as for THC values or dates. In one case, Tweed labelled a lot of dried flower as packaged in April of 2018, not April of 2019.
Global News attempted to obtain the records of testing done on provincial retailers and the names of licensed producers but was largely turned down.
Global filed an access-to-information request with the Société québécoise du cannabis, Quebec’s monopoly cannabis retailer, for test results that they say they have ordered on randomly selected products. It was turned down, and is under appeal. The SQDC did say that they hadn’t recalled any products as a result of testing.
The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation said it doesn’t conduct cannabis testing.
The Alberta Gaming and Lottery Corporation, which oversees cannabis sales in that province, released a limited and heavily censored set of testing records. From that data, it appears that the AGLC has paid for six cannabis samples to be tested by a lab in Edmonton, of which two seem to have failed. The names of the licensed producers concerned have been withheld.
Global asked the AGLC for more information — what the tests showed, what the products were, what action was taken as a result — and they refused to answer.
Health Canada did not respond to a question about why the names of the producers or testing information aren’t made public.